Drones spot 2 more bodies from Italy avalanche, toll at 9

CANAZEI, Italy — Authorities said conditions downhill from a glacier in the Italian Alps were too unstable for searchers and dogs to work on the mountain, where a chunk of ice the size of a residential home broke loose over the weekend, killing several hikers. But with the help of drones, two more bodies were spotted on the edge of tons of debris from the avalanche.

The discovery brought the known death toll from Sunday’s avalanche to nine, Trento provincial president Maurizio Fugatti told reporters on Wednesday night in the resort of Canazei, at the foot of the glacier-capped Marmolada mountain.

Five people who had hiked were missing. However, authorities stressed that until the two bodies located by drones are identified, it is not clear if they belong to the five whose families said they never returned from the mountain.

All missing are Italians. So far, four of the nine dead have been identified.

As hikers enjoyed a Sunday outing in warm, sunny weather, a huge chunk of glacier shed, sending an avalanche of ice and rock that thundered down a main trail.

Rescuers said they hoped the temperature would drop Thursday, which would reduce the risk of more avalanches so searchers could head up the Marmolada’s slope.

Relatives of the missing Italians have been pushing for the recovery of the bodies of their loved ones, believed to be buried under the avalanche. The size of the glacier’s free-standing peak was compared to a dwelling house.

Trento prosecutor Sandro Raimondi said in an interview on Italian state radio on Wednesday that he had opened a formal investigation to determine whether there was negligence. The public prosecutor wants to consult geologists.

But Raimondi said that at the time it looked like the avalanche could not have been foreseen.

“The unpredictability of that moment is the main character,” he said.

Forensic police investigators dispatched from the city of Parma took samples of some of the recovered remains on Wednesday to determine if they belonged to any of the missing persons.

Meanwhile, the mayors of Canazei and smaller towns at the foot of the mountains in the Dolomite chain issued ordinances closing the Marmolada peak to hikers. Some people ignored the orders and climbed the lower slopes.

Authorities have cited a week-long heatwave in northern Italy and scant winter snowfalls as likely factors behind the weekend’s collapse of the glacier, which has shrunk dramatically over decades.

Last weekend the temperature on the Marmolada exceeded 10 degrees Celsius (50 F), unusually high for early summer, authorities said.

Polar science experts at a research center run by the Italian government estimated that the Marmolada glacier could disappear completely in the next 25 to 30 years if current climate trends continue.

Between 2004 and 2015, the glacier lost 30% of its volume and 22% of its area.

People whose livelihoods are linked to the mountain offered their own observations. Carlo Budel, hut manager on the Marmolada side, recalled that last month the glacier was not covered with snow.

“Last year when I moved into the hut on June 1, it took me only half a day to enter the hut because the hut was completely covered with snow,” he said. “But this year I opened the main door in just 30 minutes.”

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D’Emilio reported from Rome. Andrea Rosa and Paolo Santalucia contributed to this report.

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